by Alexander Wolfgang

"Insanity: A perfect rational adjustment to an insane world."
—R.D. Lang

Excellia Rush. Some call it the painful pleasure. It's a pleasure that kills—namely, the one whose closest throat you can rip out. Most don't administer the drug willingly; that'd be like sayin' "Hey, wanna die, just no guarantees?" It's easier to slip into someone's morning coffee or injection, if you're feelin' bold enough. After that, the chances of there bein' a tomorrow for you are slim to nil, and those who do survive are no longer the same person they were before.

If you're a survivor, it usually begins with your blood boiling. The more you stress, the faster it works its magic. Then it becomes a tumor inside of you. You begin forgettin' stuff. First it's all minor, like where you placed your car keys. Stupid shit. Then you can't recall what you ate that morning, or the morning before that, or if you ever even ate anything at all. As the hours go by you get more forgetful. Soon you can't remember your mother and father, or your whole family. Did you even have a family? Were you ever even born? Then your name's gone. Your whole identity is next. You're lost in a deceptive world, and no one's gonna help you. Alone. Lost. Abandoned. These things start to drive you insane, and you enjoy it at first, because it's the Rush that's getting' you again, wrapping you in its cold fingers and squeezing you 'til you go poof! like a candle.

But there are some things you may recall: The people you've killed while on that pleasurable Rush, and you don't know if you like it or not. After a while, it's all you see anymore. Now your mind is gone, gone forever, and there's no getting' it back. You're beyond all hope—a small soul adrift in a sea of ruin. The Rush, the Rush, the Rush is all you can think about. It ain't a surprise to say we all die eventually, and if you've been Rushed, you've got a number of options to end your suffering. Starve? Drown? Hell, I've seen this one guy set himself on fire once.

They say if it doesn't kill you instantly, you'll wish later that it had.

Hopefully by now you can see why no one would use that shit willingly, or are you that out of your goddamn mind? Is it still so difficult for you to fathom? I don't blame you—it sounds too crazy to be true. Welcome to my city: A distant gap between you and me, and you ain't even seen the half of it.

After all that, you might get the big picture: Excellia Rush is very bad, awakening the worst in us all. That skeleton we'd rather keep not dancing in our closets, or the monster we hide under our beds. I haven't had that many encounters with the drug (though to be honest, I've done plenty of others), and the few I've had have been burned into my mind, unable to escape it. I can't.

From my experience, with my own tales of bad trips and fixes...even a moron like me can tell you that usin' Excellia Rush is out of the question. We never sold it in my line of work, though as a dealer of such pleasurable banes I can give you a whole list of stuff that'll make you feel all good inside.

So you may be wondering, who does sell Excellia? Who in their right fuckin' mind would go about selling that shit?

Why d'you ask? Thinkin' of trying some one day?

Two years ago when I was a freshman in high school, my English teacher made a reference to this guy who gets thrown off a ship and eaten by a whale. So the poor idiot spends three days and nights inside the whale's belly, prayin' and thankin' God for not lettin' him drown when he had since turned his back on Him. So God, in his infinite mercy, tells the guy to go preach repentance after the ordeal, and so he does. My mother told me the exact same story when I was little. Wish I could remember the details. I suppose my teacher was trying to give us a lesson on patience and gratitude, but personally, I think I'd be more disgruntled for spending that long inside of a mammal.

Some parts of that story reminds me of the dog fighter's coliseum we went to one evening in February. It's my first time seein' a dog fight and I was told it'd be good for the experience. I don't know. It wasn't exactly my ideal place to spend my sixteenth birthday. The stench of dry blood on concrete, drugs, smoke, and piss was everywhere. Everything's so tight that you can't help but bump into every random stranger.

This monkey of a man is standing in front of me, threatening that he's gonna cut my dick off if I don't get outta his way. I can tell he's definitely at the end of his line. His complexion is pale, almost blue; he is a desert leaf—dry and high, and his eyes are the wasteland. The whites of his eyes are actually orange, all shrunken and dry. This one seems as though his eyeballs are ready to pop out anytime soon. His lips bulge and flap when he talks with his raspy lisp. What occurs to me most is how slow and petty his punches are when he swings a blow at me, so weak I'm able to dodge without breaking a sweat (and mind you, I'm not the most athletic person there is. I can hardly run amuck for five minutes before collapsing from exhaustion. It really sucks). His face is bedecked with scars, not only from his own overgrown warts and withered skin from being pumped with drug after drug after drug over how many decades, but those were war scars; scars that were born within the bedlam of a dome battlefield. He's old. He's a dog. And today, he's gonna die.

When I say "dog", I could say this in a literal sense. Back in the day, Ophelia City used to allow dog fights, mostly with pit bulls. Everyone knows it's illegal, but they don't care. The reason they stopped, or at least became less popular, was because they had taken interest in a new form of the game. With people.

Call me a jerk, but I kinda prefer it this way. With an animal, you're aware that they're neglected, abused, starved so that they'll rip at each other for raw meat, fresh meat, very yummy, bloody meat. Dogs were born into this life without having done any wrong, no reason but to kill or die. I guess I'm similar to that in a way. Dogs don't choose their fate, neither do they deserve it. They just are. But humans—these ridiculous greedy chimps who get themselves so far into a hole 'til not even their lives ain't worth a penny—are far less than animals. These fighters are given a few extra liberties, but they're still dogs. If you ask me, both are fun to watch rip each other apart; I just get greater satisfaction out of knowing that the monkeys are treated worse.

See, there's a difference between being aware of somethin', and not carin'. O, I know. I just don't care.

Before you say anything, I'll have you know that I am quite a legitimate bastard in both ways.

I can also dodge punches rather well.

This fighter monkey's got nothing on me. He's big and I'm small, sure, but I'm sober and he's drugged on god-knows-what. I'm excited because I'm an idiot teenager and soon I'll be witness to this man's final moments, and I enjoy every minute roughing him up. It gets the monkey all pumped.

Leon is with me, laughin', pointin', proddin' at the old fool as well. He does this loud enough to draw a crowd. He does this to attract attention. Leon is a magnet for that. It works. The drugged up coot finally pushes my buttons and I strike back. He's still pissed but can't pack a wallop even while his life depends on it. Good thing we were gonna bet against him.

All around, the summoned crowd guffaws like the dumb jackasses they are. They'll keep their distance, not wantin' to be within close proximity of the stumbling monkey man. He could lead them to bad luck, they believe.

And yeah, I could hear what you're probably thinking 'bout now: "This kind of thing should be illegal." Really. Are you fuckin' kidding me? I'll tell you, half of the city's law enforcements are the ones here tonight. Did you know that? Of course you didn't. Sit the hell down and shut up. I shit you not here: Officers will stalk the crowd from the shadows, waiting for the chance to step in with their stun baton. They've been this way since the Riots, which overthrew Ophelia's government. Moral values, you say? Hah!

People got what they wanted from the Riots, though: Dancing monkeys.

Dance, monkeys, dance!

Scarred monkey dog man staggers, suffocating on the very air which we all breathe. This is where the staff breaks in. Shoving the crowd, including myself, away, they close the scene. It isn't because they give a damn. Hell, I'll bet you my own sorry neck that they were expectin' the whole shenanigan before the moron decided to pick a fight with me for bumping into him. Anyway, the monkey fighter is the ticket to their profit. The officers know something the rest of the crowd doesn't, and the hint is stinkin' bad enough to make my nose wrinkle and my gut churn.

"Hey." Leon doesn't seem to notice a thing as I turn to him. We're being shoved back into the crowd. He's enthralled, overwhelmed, and also taken by a wave of outrage from the furious mob. I still yell at the top of my lungs, this time screaming in his face. "Hey!" He hears it. He blurts something, but I can't hear it. I choose not to. "We've gotta withdraw the gamble this next match."

Leon's face screws with a sour look. After what just happened, he truly did want to make some cash out of this round. "Why? Jerusalem's already left to get our tickets."

"The answer's in his eyes. He's been Rushed." It's Kavar. I see him and I know we somehow thought the same thing. We do that sometimes. Jerusalem Kavar slinks between us and wraps his arms over both mine and Leon's shoulders, guiding us from the rioting mass of people. The monkey fighter is bein' escorted to the iron doors where he'll later be taken to his Cage. "Don't fret, Alex. It's already been taken care of."

Leon blinks. "Rushed? Don't they check the fighters to make sure they're clean?"

"They've got the match fixed. When you've got a drugged fighter, that's usually how it goes."

Kavar shoots me a grin, accompanied with a wink. The way he smiles sometimes feels as though he's fightin' the urge to blurt a terrible secret he's keeping from you. The glint in his frightening eyes holds a history of a lifetime or two on the dark, urban streets. Kavar doesn't just know Ophelia City—he is Ophelia City, and like a master chess player he predicts everyone's moves before they're even made. This is why I'm not surprised he knew what was going on.

"Good call, young'un. They don't want you to know, but the monkey belongs to the Commissioner of Central Ophelia. She's been a good customer of mine, so I'm letting her take this one."

You have to hand it to the man—he knows what he's doing. But sometimes I can tell that his tongue is forked and it drips with lies.

Music begins, to set the mood. The air vibrates with life and a lust for death as the crowd jeers from their seats. Kavar nudges me a little with his cheeky grin. He doesn't have to say anything. He brought me here for a reason. That is why he takes me by the arm, grabbing Leon as well and drags the two of us through the steel doors. He nods to a guard as he passes through, and now it's off to our seats.

Flashing lights blind me; I feel as though I'm in a clubhouse, but no. I'm in a mixture of race and history and culture. I'm in a stadium in Greece in a south Louisiana slum; a prison camp in Rome; a prospect where there is no future but the future. This is time, my friends, and I'm witnessing it 'til the End.

This is how I live. This is what I enjoy. This is the love of my life—the heart of the party, the joy of living, the pleasure of a cruel, sadistic game. I'm nothin' more than scum and I couldn't care less because bein' an asshole has never been so rewarding.

Leon, much like Kavar, is a gambler. He has an eye out for these sorta games, and most of the time he's accurate. He doesn't just predict who's going to win; he measures the length of the fight, wagers with their strengths and muscle and weakness. You could almost mistake him for bein' psychic sometimes, but he ain't that good. He makes mistakes, but who doesn't? With Leon and Kavar, we could easily break everyone's wallet in this entire room in a blink and it would be perfectly normal.

From high above us, Cages are being lowered from the rafters and into the coliseum pit below. From where we stand I have to step atop the bench in order to see because, again, I'm not that tall, and there's this guy conveniently sitting in front of me with shaggy hair that could easily be mistaken for being a bush. Well, ain't he Mister Joe Cool? In any case, I'm struggling to see what's happenin' over him while fightin' the urge to tell the guy to invest in some hairspray while we're at it:

Two figures enter the coliseum pit.

My attention is no longer on thinking of the different angles I could chop Joe Cool's hair now, but the fighters: The first one is a perfectly healthy looking man. His skin is so fresh that it shines in the light of the very stadium. Though I'd hate to think of the things he's done to get himself into the situation where he had to kill in order to gain back his freedom from Ophelian's hierarchy, he enjoys being the star of the show. Things haven't changed much for The Star since his fall into puppetry, I see. The crowd cheers him on and wishes him a glorious triumph. They'll carry him off into victory. We'll see how long their loyalties last.

The Star's opponent, the scarred monkey, leaves his cage next. From far away he looks much more withered and unsightly than he did up close, and I'm surprised by this. He's no longer wearing his filthy, rust-colored shirt but exposing the rest of his scars to the world. Unlike The Star who's all pretty and clean, the monkey man has shown that he's survived many battles for a long enough time to have the experience, and despite that, he's slow and weak. The monkey man is not as keen on reveling in his fan's cheers as his adversary is. Monkey man sulks with his mug frown and sour look, wrinkly yellow eyes vacant. The overhead lights flashing all about the room switch and focus on these two fighters.

Something's off 'bout the monkey man, though. He ain't slow and petty as he'd been with me, neither are his punches puny as when he had tried to hit me. In fact, when Kavar handed me a pair of electric binoculars, I zoom in on the man to find that he's actually frothing at the mouth.

I shit you not, it's like the guy has fuckin' rabies or something.

He stands there, trembling from the adrenaline rush, bloodshot eyes wide and wild and ready for the kill. The Star doesn't seem to notice. He believes the fight is already won 'cause he's younger, healthier, and supposedly the strong one. The monkey is just waiting for the bell to ring, holding back on his animalistic rage. The minute clock is set. In sixty seconds, the good part starts.

Kavar is no longer standing next to me but talking to a woman in the isle, a few rows down. I could always crawl down a few benches and see what he's up to, but before I do I see Kavar's got an arm wrapped over her shoulder, escorting his friend to us. Leon and I exchange uncertain glances.

"I'd like for you to meet my colleagues, Leon Mageau and Alexander Ravencrow. This is the Commissioner. She's the one who gave me the heads up on the match."

The woman in her yellow dress and tied-up blonde hair holds out her white gloved hand, to which Leon takes without hesitation and shakes. When she turns to me, I'm not as enthused. I dunno why, either. There's just somethin' strange 'bout her orange, exotic eyes that set me off.

I take her hand anyway, but I don't hold it as long as Leon. I simply nod. "Pleasure to meet you, ma'am." Casual as I could possibly be, I go back to watchin' the timer on the clock by the second.

Kavar went back, talkin' to his friend. "Really, Commissioner, I don't know what's gotten into him—he's usually quite the social butterfly."

"I'm sure." She looks at me as I stand back over the bench to view the coliseum. A sly grin forms on her bright red lips. "Jerusalem has told me it's your birthday, Alex." She gestures to the isle, ignoring the fact that I'm stupidly blushing. "If you want, I have special reservation chairs below, just for you three. They're the best."

Once again Leon and I exchange glances. He smiles but a sense of uneasiness takes hold of me. What's wrong, Alex? There's no declining the woman's offer. Leon is already making his way into the isle with Kavar and I sure as hell didn't wanna be there with Joe Cool's stupid 'fro blockin' the view.

While Kavar went on talking, the timer sounds. It seems as though Kavar got himself more interested in other matters, 'cause suddenly the fight doesn't matter to him much as the Commissioner matters. After all, it ain't like he doesn't know what's gonna happen. It's just me and Leon in the reservation seats, and the Commissioner was right—these really are the best. There ain't a single inch in the entire coliseum that I wouldn't have to tilt my head more than a little to see. I can fully make out monkey man's facial sores and The Star's pretty, sparkling complexion in the limelight as the fight begins.

In this game, there are no separate rounds. What'd you think this is, boxing? Hell no. This is real death, and that's what they want you to know. There ain't any resting time for the fighters. The moment they step in, they forfeit their right to lose. What rules are there to explain? In my time, we aren't bound by the shackles of rules and law. Where I come from, I'm far ahead of you.

So far, and so steep down the evolutionary chain.

Dance, you fuckin' monkey.

Monkey man's just about had it. His eyes are glazed over and I can no longer see anything but the yellow that consumes his irises. His pupils are black specks and his veins clearly show like tubes all over his body. Foam dribbles down his lips as he bares his filed teeth for the public. His fists clench, tightening the muscles in his arms, and he's starting to look like beef jerky. He's made of wood, and he isn't afraid to show it.

The Star, on the other hand, thinks of this as one big theater. He's not gonna die. He's gonna live and bask in the glory of his adoring audience just like in the movies. Most likely he was some pampered little punk raised in a noble class system, popular in high school, and I'll eat my jacket if his daddy didn't buy him good grades. But daddy didn't buy him out of debt, now did he? Star-boy was at the end of his line, too. The world will wear him down before he's even had the chance to shine. Watch as the smile wipes clean off his face when the monkey man makes his first stunning retaliation.

Star can dodge quickly. Nice. He's just as fast and even temperate. Monkey man rages in his battle cry as he makes to attack Star. Star can only keep up with this dodging business for so long, I can tell. Go ahead, you smug bastard, keep grinnin'. Keep on laughin'. We'll see who's gonna be the one dancin' on who's grave when the longest ten minutes of your life is over.

O boy, you're gonna hate it.

Finally, the strings have been cut. Monkey man loses it. He's tearin' at The Star like a mad battering ram. As the Star tries to dodge, he makes his first fatal error: Monkey takes him by the ankle, swingin' him up and into the air. Star goes airborne. Star becomes a star. Literally. Now the only thing that's shines in the floodlight are the bruises and swollen face that the monkey had embedded on him with but a single blow.

The crowd goes silent. No one has any idea what's goin' on until it hits them. Star becomes a human pincushion for monkey. Dance, monkeys. Sing for me, monkeys. This is your hymn to the world, monkeys. This is your purpose. To live and to die, to kill and abide. Obey your lord and masters.

Now, the audience is gawking in awe and horror. Others rush out into the isles, finding garbage cans and nearest bathrooms to relinquish their most recent meal in. Some just puke on the floor. Men and women with their hands over their mouths, watching in horror as the coliseum is being painted red with the blood and tissue and organs of their one and only Star, whose flesh is easily torn out as though it were just like scoopin' pudding. Monkey man has no problem with diggin' his hands into all that warm, still-living body of The Star and rippin' out everything that makes him tick. Hell, I bet the Rush is makin' this all out to be like sex to him. But this ain't even half of it. You want true wickedness in these fights, these drugs and these rigged games?

You ain't seen fuckin' nothing yet.

Screamin', cryin', roarin'—all one and the same to everyone and no one! Triumph, glory, horror, who the hell cares? This is life in the deepest, darkest pits of Ophelia City, my friend, and life is an ugly thing to face here. You hide from it, you bask in your own glory for too long, and you'll end up like Star-Boy over there, in the dirt, entrails everywhere.

Now The Star is nothin' but a pile of flesh and blood, but his organs are still moving and he's breathin' somehow, alive. A supernova has come, and his fire is all burnt out. O, that's too bad. Shock and terror overwhelm the crowd. More people are jumpin' from their seat; their money placed on The Star, wasted. Suckers. They'll be ticketed on their way out.

I glance to the Commissioner. She's got this smug smile on her face, and I know. I know she was the one who put the drug into the monkey man, herself. She was the monkey man's Owner, and she put him to sleep. Kavar admires that. He has an arm tucked around her waist as the two of them watch the show together. Monkey man's enjoying this more.

This was my first time actually seeing a Rush. Well, not the first, 'cause there's somethin' else that's been naggin' at me the entire time; I couldn't place what, though. I'm not sure if I like this so much. I'm not sure if I dislike it, either. Leon doesn't seem too affected by it, yet there's a noble sitting next to him, and he's got a handkerchief over his mouth. The noble's cheeks puff and I can see that he's gagging.

Monkey man goes silent, takin' in the chaos. He's sinkin' those razor sharp teeth into his victim's throat. Like a dog he starts chewin', gnawin', feastin' on all that raw human meat, fresh meat, and very bitter, bloody meat. To him, triumph is glory and glory is at the center of the world. You wouldn't be able to tell if it was The Star by the time he dropped what was left of the mutilated corpse on the ground. The youth's eyeballs are swollen and poppin' out of his skull. His jaw hangs loosely, dangling from its sockets and nearly falling off. Most of his teeth have been busted out, strewn across the stadium floor among the mess, and I'll tell you, it's a damn disgusting sight to see.

Guards are at the gates. I can see from where I'm at that they've got their batons at the ready. Suddenly, monkey man is distracted from his kill. His head snaps up. He sees the crowd. His eyes are completely white now. No more yellow. No trace of what had once been human left in him as he screeches out in sheer, bestial fury and lunges at the walls, clawin' and reachin' for the top but to no avail. The gates open. Security floods in on queue. Monkey man whirls around, distracted from one objective to the next. He sees his imminent threat and charges to his new prey. He leaps into the air like a jackrabbit and punches one armored guard to the ground. His strength is so powerful that with a single blow his fist shatters the guard's helmet. Blood sprays out from the helmet's visor, and the guard stops strugglin' before he could even begin. Monkey man takes back his hand, his knuckles bloodied, now with chips of bone and chunks of brains on his own skin. I can see the distorted, punched-in skull of the guard through the broken visor, and for a moment I turn away.

Jerusalem Kavar is next to me. No longer is he distracted by the Commissioner, but he takes me by the chin and forces me to look back to the coliseum. "Don't look away; it won't make you a man. After all, part of this is your doing. You festered the drug. It kills not only the user, but it destroys others who come in contact with the user. Destroys until it's destroyed."

I swallow hard. Yes. Yes, it is. But ought it be this way?

For now, I can't help but hate myself, because I'm a boy again, thinking about the last memory of my mother, whackin' her skull against the inside of a locked car, bashin' and bashin' with the same rage as the man on Excellia Rush. The glass then broke and her head bust open. Blood was everywhere as broken pieces of shattered glass slashed through her broken neck. I remember her death-screams. I remember the drug. And now I remember why Kavar wanted me to see this.

"Say hello to your mother's killer, Alex. Happy birthday."

Have I learned my Great Lesson yet? Is this what repentance feels like? 'Cause I feel sick.

Five guards stampede toward their maniac target. One closes the gates, sealin' them all in the arena. The animal in monkey man thinks he can hold them all off by his lonesome. He bellows while clawin' at his own chest, his beefy chest. Blood spurts out as he creates a perfect, beautifully crimson stain across his bare torso. He grins a demented grin as he takes pleasure in pain—not just everyone else's but his as well. He's drownin' himself in a wave of self-inflicted ecstasy and agony and in his world it doesn't matter. All that matters is the agony. Agony, blood, pain, death. Blood, pain, agony, death. There is especially Death.

A shot is fired. Monkey man tumbles to his hands and knees. He's laughing. The bastard is actually laughing. He's begging for more pain, for more agony. He hungers for it. He needs it. It fulfills him. It crumbles him as if he's been crushed by a goliath, and buried in stones afterwards as the guards slam their batons over his body. He's laughin' as they beat him until his flesh is jelly and every bone is broken. I see them pokin' out of him. Laughin'. His laugh is like needles stabbin' into my ears and I can't take it anymore. I cover my head and I try to block out that horrible, maddening laugh, but it's still there. Fuck everything I said earlier—it's still there!

And I hear a calming hush in my ear. It is a woman. Death. Everything seems so dark for an instant, before light returns, though everything feels so, so cold.

Strange thoughts occur to me then. The Commissioner truly did get great seats. She's smilin' in wily satisfaction and Kavar joins her again. I can see her champion, unmoving, but the guards continue to beat him to a pulp until there's nothin' left twitching. The gates open, and people come in to take out what's left of The Star and their dead worker. The stadium is nearly empty. Almost everyone escaped during the bedlam of disgusting victory. Glory had never tasted so bitter and sweet, like sugar and white wine.

I wonder how much money was tainted by this guy's livelihood blood.

The night isn't over, but the fight is. The mess is simply too much.

Into the belly of the whale: The music stops, the floodlights fade, and the abyss swallows the fleshy red coliseum whole.